Citizen Action Monitor

PM Trudeau says Saudi arms deal stands; Minister Dion tip-toes around human rights concerns with Saudi peer

Did lucrative deal mute stronger expressions of moral and ethical condemnation of Saudi HR abuses?

No 1546 Posted by fw, December 19, 2015


“Look, everyone of us knows from their own experiences that people can internalize beliefs that are useful to them. Okay. There are evil people. But the problems we’re talking about don’t have to do with that. They have to do with institutional structures. They’re not [immoral people]. They’re just working within an immoral system. And anyone who works in it is going to do harm. So change the system…. because these are institutional effects.”Noam Chomsky (Source: Noam Chomsky Globalization and Neoliberalism FULL Speech video, the above passage is spoken at about the 1:47:00 mark during Q&A).


This is a long post about Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia presented in six sections: 1) my open letter to PM Trudeau urging him to cancel a secretive arms deal Saudi Arabia, and an excerpt of reply from PM’s office; 2) CBC news report of Minister Dion’s meeting with Saudi foreign minister; 3) Trudeau says he will not cancel arms deal with Saudis; 4) Dion’s official statement of meeting with Saudi minister; 5) Fact checking Liberal’s side of the story; and 6) What Liberals could learn from Sweden’s dealings with the Saudis.



October 25, 2015 — My Open Letter to the newly-elected PM re the Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia

Back on October 25, 2015 I posted my open letter to then prime minister designate Justin Trudeau urging him to cancel a secretive arms agreement between the Harper Government and Saudi Arabia. I presented a moral argument that Canada should not be selling arms to a country guilty of countless human rights violations.

December 18, 2015 — Response from Trudeau’s office

On Friday, December 18, I received this reply to my letter from the PM’s Executive Correspondence Officer:

“Please be assured that your comments have been carefully reviewed. As the matter you have raised falls within the responsibilities of the Honourable Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have taken the liberty of forwarding your message to him. I am certain that the Minister will wish to give your views every consideration.”


December 18, 2015 — CBC News story on Dion meeting with Adel Al Jubeir

CBC published a story titled: Raif Badawi’s Case Raised By Stéphane Dion With Saudi Counterpart. The story focused primarily on the case of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife and three children have been granted asylum in Canada.

Here are selected key passages from the CBC News report not mentioned in Dion’s statement:

  • A $15-billion contract to sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia thrust Canadian–Saudi relations under the spotlight during the recent federal election. Harper was forced to defend the contract, saying that “notwithstanding its human rights violations,” Saudi Arabia was not just a trading partner but also an ally in the fight against ISIS.
  • Trudeau has said he will not cancel the multimillion [arms] contract with the Saudis.
  • Badawi, whose wife [Ensaf Haidar] and three children live in Canada, was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes after he was found guilty in January of insulting Islam on his blog. The punishment was suspended after Badawi received the first 50 lashes but he remains behind bars.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was not yet prepared to intervene personally in Badawi’s case, preferring to leave the matter to Dion…. “It’s a humanitarian case on which we continue to express ourselves in a clear fashion,”’ said Trudeau. Trudeau’s remarks came despite the fact that when he was opposition leader some of his MPs, including Dion, called on then prime minister Stephen Harper to personally ask the Saudi king to release Badawi. Haidar has asked Trudeau to take up her husband’s case so he can join his family in Canada. Trudeau alluded to his meeting with Haidar during Wednesday’s [Dec. 16] interview, saying he told her clearly that the Liberals would continue to pressure the Saudi government to free Badawi.


Trudeau says he will not cancel the multimillion [arms] contract with the Saudis.

Reported in CBC News story. He won’t cancel the deal! That’s it? That’s all he has to say? Arms contract will not be cancelled. No explanation. So much for “real change.” So much for “transparency”. That leaves Canadians with no choice but to fill in the blanks. The obvious answer is the Saudi arms deal was permeated by a double standard in which moral, ethical and democratic principles must not compromise short-term corporate profits or Canadian jobs. It appears that business with dictatorships and countries with systemic corruption and discrimination, can, to some extent, be accepted if the profits are high enough. 

Which leads one to ask — Does Saudi Arabia use lucrative trade deals – especially arms trade deals – to buy silence and complicity from influential western governments?

To silence speculation, Mr. Trudeau must speak up and explain to Canadians why this arms deal should not be cancelled.


December 17, 2015 — Minister Dion’s statement about his meeting with his Saudi Arabian counterpart

Minister Dion released the following statement on his meeting with Adel Al Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of foreign affairs

“I was pleased to host the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, Adel Al Jubeir, today in Ottawa. Our meeting strengthened the ties between Canada and Saudi Arabia and allowed us to discuss regional security issues, our common resolve in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Saudi-Arabian-led efforts in the recent creation of an Islamic coalition against terrorism, our contribution to the international response to the Syrian crisis and coordination of our efforts to support refugees fleeing conflict areas in the region.

“I congratulated the Minister on his leadership in bringing together the Syrian opposition parties, an important step toward a much-needed political resolution to the crisis. We also discussed Canada’s concerns regarding the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia, including the case of Raif Badawi, whose family resides in Canada. I expressed the government’s hope that clemency will be granted in this case.

“I also welcomed the recent local elections in Saudi Arabia, in which a number of women were elected. Engaging with our international partners serves Canadian interests, and I look forward to continuing to build on this important relationship, including our robust two-way trade.


Fact-Checking The Liberal Government’s Side of the Story

PM Trudeau places a high value on transparency in his government. But fact checking reveals more was omitted than included in Dion’s statement, and in the CBC News account.


The Ali Mohammed al-Nimr case — So far, to my knowledge, there has been no mention by officials of Canadian Foreign Affairs of the Ali Mohammed al-Nimr case, which I raised in my October letter to the PM. This concerns a Saudi teenager who, for the non-violent act of participating in a 2012 pro-democracy protest, has been sentenced to beheading and crucifixion. First, his head will be chopped off, then his headless body will be hung upside down on a cross for three days to send a horrendously graphic message to others — behave obediently or else.


Ten inconvenient facts about Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia (Source: Ten facts about Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia by Cesar Jaramillo, Open Canada, [ca September 25, 2015]

What follows are headings only. For the full story, click on the above linked title.

Fact 1: The deal is, by far, the largest military exports contract in Canadian history, valued at $14.8 billion. The deal was brokered by the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) — a taxpayer-financed Crown corporation — for an undisclosed number of Light Armoured Vehicles to be manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), based in London, Ontario.

Fact 2: Canada’s trade policies state that Canada “closely controls” military exports to governments with “a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.”

Fact 3: Saudi Arabia is one of the worst human rights violators in the world.

Fact 4: Documentary evidence shows that the Saudi regime uses Light Armoured Vehicles against civilians.

Fact 5: The necessary export permits had not been issued when the deal with Saudi Arabia was officially announced.

Fact 6: The deal was announced without a single reference to the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Fact 7: Information on how Ottawa justified the deal has not been made available to the Canadian public.

Fact 8: More than a passive intermediary, the CCC is an active promoter of military exports.

Fact 9: Other developments, such as the expansion of the Automatic Firearms Country Control List, point to the erosion of military export control standards in Canada.

Fact 10: Canada’s minority position as a non-signatory to the Arms Trade Treaty denies it a voice in a critical international process to better regulate the arms trade.


Dion on Election of Women — “I also welcomed the recent local elections in Saudi Arabia, in which a number of women were elected,” writes Minister Dion in his statement. Here’s a viewpoint that puts this news out of Saudi Arabia in perspective —

Is Saudi Women’s Vote a Step Forward by Medea Benjamin, Common Dreams, December 14, 2015 – “The global press has been heralding the December 13, 2015, vote in Saudi Arabia as a breakthrough for women, since it’s the first time in history that Saudi women have been allowed to vote. But is this vote really a significant step forward?” Here’s a sample of Benjamin’s account of the vote for women: Saudi women remain trapped in a male guardianship system; the election was for municipal councils which have little power; election marks only the third time in the nation’s history that Saudis—men or women–have been allowed to vote; less than 10 percent of all eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot;  99 percent of women didn’t vote; Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where authorities bar women from driving; women who have challenged the driving ban have been imprisoned, fined, suspended from their jobs, banned from traveling, and even threatened with terrorism charges for public incitement. Click on the linked title to read more…


Dion on “Saudi-Arabian-led efforts in the recent creation of an Islamic coalition against terrorism” cited in his written statement. Here’s are two news reports that challenge the purpose and effectiveness of the Saudi initiative,

Saudi-orchestrated gathering of Syrian “rebels” ends in disarray by Bill Van Auken, World Socialist Web Site, December 12, 2015 – “A gathering of Syrian Al Qaeda-linked militias and exile politicians convened by the Saudi monarchy in Riyadh concluded Friday with the adoption of a joint agreement but with little clarity as to who was supporting it and even less on what purpose it will serve in furthering the stated aim of a negotiated end to Syria’s bloody civil war…. This is what is being portrayed as the “moderate rebels” extolled by the US and its regional allies. That the Saudi monarchy—itself a Sunni sectarian dictatorship—should do so is hardly surprising. It, as well as the monarchical regime in Qatar and the Islamist government in Turkey, in collaboration with the CIA, has funneled billions of dollars in funding and arms to these forces, which have ravaged Syria and slaughtered religious minorities.”Click on the linked title to read more…

Saudis’ Anti-Terror Window-dressing by Paul R. Pillar, Consortium News, December 18, 2015 – “Faced with greater public awareness of its role promoting Sunni jihadist terror, Saudi Arabia has announced a 34-nation “anti-terrorism coalition,” but it may be just window-dressing for Riyadh’s anti-Shiite agenda, not a serious move against extremism, an issue addressed by ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar. The leaders of Saudi Arabia in particular, but also several other participants in the 34-nation anti-terrorism coalition that the Saudis put together and was announced this week, want to tell us that they are against terrorism and that they are pulling their weight in opposing it. Beyond such messaging, this new group of states — which mostly are Muslim-majority nations and all of which are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — is unlikely to amount to much.”Click on the linked title to read more…

Dion on “strengthened ties between Canada and Saudi Arabia and allowed us to discuss regional security issues” – Middle East expert Sharif Abdel Kouddous questions Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jeir’s account of Saudi bombing in Yemen. Read the excerpt below and then ask yourself — Is this the kind of partner that Canadians want the Trudeau government to “strengthen ties” with?

Ceasefire in Yemen Faces Collapse as U.S. Continues Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia, Fueling Civil War by Democracy Now, December 18, 2015 –

Amy Goodman: “The foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, speaking on CBS News in September, was asked about the efficacy and accuracy of Saudi airstrikes in Yemen.

Adel Al- Jubeir: “We are very careful in picking targets. We have very precise weapons. We work with our allies, including the United States, on these targets. We do damage assessments of these targets after they’re hit.”

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: “Well, he should then answer for the thousands of civilians that have been killed by his bombs, by the bombs that are coming down. I mean, it’s shocking that there isn’t enough—that the U.S. is not putting more pressure, that the United States is not doing its own investigations, given its conduct in the war. And, I mean, when I was talking about the humanitarian situation, Saudi Arabia and the coalition have imposed a blockade, a siege, on Yemen—this country that is in desperate need for its basic goods. This comes under the rubric of a Security Council resolution to—an arms embargo on the Houthi leadership. But, for example, in September, 1 percent of Yemen’s fuel needs entered the country. Fuel affects everything—access for food delivery, electricity. So, Yemenis are slowly being strangled to death.” Click on the above linked title to read more…


Finally…what happened when Sweden’s foreign minister tried to speak about human rights at the Arab League

In a not unrelated story, the Trudeau government could learn a thing or two from Sweden’s run-in with Saudi Arabia. According to a March 12, 2015 Guardian report, “Saudi Arabia blocked its [Sweden’s] foreign minister, Margot Wallström, from speaking about human rights at a meeting of the Arab League. On Tuesday, in the face of opposition from Sweden’s business elite and leading politicians, Stockholm tore up a long-term arms trade agreement with the Saudis which had brought in the equivalent of £900m in 2014 alone. The Swedish state itself may not have relished the decision, but pressure from the political left after the blocking of Wallström’s speech made the continuation of arms sales untenable.”

A series of tit-for-tat exchanges followed before diplomatic and trade relations were eventually restored.

Lesson learned — The following translated passage from a Swedish source is instructive:

In the rather simplified discussion on Swedish companies’ trade with repressive regimes and non-democracies is often held that companies can promote democracy and human rights through increased trade, openness and knowledge sharing. Research shows, however, that to bring about a positive development requires much more than the company simply conducting business as usual in difficult markets. The question is not whether companies should be there, but rather of how they work strategically in bringing about positive social change. There are certainly many examples of Swedish companies working for positive change in countries where human rights and democratic principles are not respected. But there is little evidence that demonstrates just how the military cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia has promoted democracy and human rights.” [Source: Industry and Commerce’s actions do not strengthen Sweden’s brand published by Svenska Dagbladet, December 19, 2015 (auto-translation by Google)]

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